Lionel Brockman Richie Jr (born June 20, 1949 in Tuskegee) is a singer, songwriter, record producer, and television personality. He was a founding songwriter and co-lead singer of the Commodores; later a top-selling solo artist; and currently a celebrity judge for ABC's "American Idol" reality show.
Richie is the son of Lionel Richie Sr, a systems analyst for the U.S. Army, and Alberta Foster Richie, an educator and principal of Eliza Kelly Elementary School. Foster's mother, Adelaide Mary Brown, was a pianist and the choir director at Tuskegee Institute.
Richie grew up in the former Booker T. Washington residence just across from the campus, which Washington had presented to his grandparents as a gift. His grandmother taught him the piano and his uncle, a big band player and former arranger for Duke Ellington, gave him a saxophone.
Richie's family moved to Joliet, Illinois while he was in grade school, and he graduated from Joliet East High School in 1967. He accepted a tennis scholarship to Tuskegee, and returned to his familiar surroundings that fall. While he was walking across campus with his saxophone, another student asked if he could play and he was recruited into a trio called "The Mystics" with Thomas McClary and William King, playing local parties and dances. They merged with another group, "The Jays" in 1968 and, after flipping through a dictionary, settled on the name "Commodores" for the expanded group, which expanded its range to bookings in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Producer Jerry Williams was impressed when he saw the Commodores in Tuskegee and brought them to New York City for a recording session in February 1969. Despite not making a big splash with that record, they hired Benny Ashburn as manager and formed the "Commodores Entertainment Corporation" . Ashburn booked them at a lawyers' convention in New York where Suzanne De Passe, creative assistant to Motown founder Barry Gordy, heard them. She signed them to open for the Jackson Five in the 1970 and 1971 tours. The group soon signed a recording contract with Motown subsidiary MoWest Records.
Meanwhile, Richie, who had once considered a divinity degree, completed his bachelor of science in economics at Tuskegee in 1974. He married Brenda Harvey on October 18, 1975. As the Commodores' main songwriter, he steered the band from their early dance-funk sound toward more R&B-style ballads. One of his songs, "Happy People", which was co-written by Jeffrey Bowen and Donald Baldwin, ended up being recorded by The Temptations and reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts.
While performing with the Commodores, Richie continued to work with other artists. He produced Kenny Rogers' 1980 album "Share Your Love" and wrote the hit song "Lady" for it. His composition "Endless Love" was recorded as a duet with him and Diana Ross as the title track for the 1981 feature film. He ultimately decided to embark on a career as a solo artist in 1982.
Richie's first solo album for Motown sold more than 4 million copies and boasted three hit singles, "Truly" (for which he won the Grammy for "Best Male Pop Vocal Performance"), "You Are", and "My Love". He doubled his sales with the follow up, "Can't Slow Down", which featured the hit single "All Night Long", and was named Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. That album later became the first record to be "Certified Diamond" by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Richie spent most of the mid-1980s on the pop charts with "Hello", "Stuck on You", "Running with the Night" and "Penny Lover" all reaching the top 10 in 1984. Diana Ross also hit the top 10 with "Missing You", which Richie wrote and produced. His 1985 song "Say You, Say Me" for the film "White Nights" was the 2nd biggest hit of 1985 and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Also that year, Richie worked with Michael Jackson to write "We Are the World" to benefit USA for Africa, a project initiated by Harry Belafonte which garnered a Grammy Award for "Song of the Year".
Richie's 1986 album "Dancing on the Ceiling" launched five hit singles, including "Say You, Say Me", "Dancing on the Ceiling", "Love Will Conquer All", "Ballerina Girl", and "Se La". After finishing the extended "Outrageous Tour" he slowed down his recording schedule, not releasing another original studio album for a decade. His 1990s releases, in a style now labeled "contemporary R&B" didn't match the success of his 1980s work. His popularity remained high in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East, however.
Richie and his wife, who had an adopted daughter, split in 1988 and formally divorced in 1993. He married Diane Alexander two years later and had two more children with her, before divorcing in 2004. He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
Richie returned to the pop charts in 2006 with the single "I Call it Love". His 2012 country crossover album "Tuskegee" went platinum and topped the Billboard 200 in April. He was featured on the Pyramid Stage at England's Glastonbury Festival in 2015.
In 2017 Richie was tapped as a judge for the relaunch of "American Idol" on ABC. That December he was one of five honorees at the 40th Kennedy Center Honors. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. In 2023 he was invited to perform at Windsor Castle in celebration of the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
- Commodores (1974) Machine Gun. Atlantic Records
- Commodores (1975) Caught in the Act. Motown Records
- Commodores (1975) Movin' On. Motown Records
- Commodores (1976) Hot on the Tracks. Motown Records
- Commodores (1977) Commodores. Motown Records
- Commodores (1978) Natural High. Motown Records
- Commodores (1979) Midnight Magic. Motown Records
- Commodores (1980) Heroes. Motown Records
- Commodores (1981) In the Pocket. Motown Records
- Richie, Lionel (1982) Lionel Richie. Motown Records
- Richie, Lionel (1983) Can't Slow Down. Motown Records
- Richie, Lionel (1986) Dancing on the Ceiling. Motown Records
- Richie, Lionel (1996) Louder Than Words. Mercury Records
- Richie, Lionel (1998) Time. Mercury Records
- Richie, Lionel (2000) Renaissance. The Island Def Jam Music Group
- Richie, Lionel (2002) Encore (live). Island Records
- Richie, Lionel (2004) Just for You. Island Records
- Richie, Lionel (2006) Coming Home. The Island Def Jam Music Group
- Richie, Lionel (2006) The Sounds of the Season (EP). The Island Def Jam Music Group
- Richie, Lionel (2009) Just Go. Island Records
- Richie, Lionel (2012) Tuskegee. Mercury Records
- Nathan, David (1985) Lionel Richie: An Illustrated Biography. McGraw-Hill ISBN 9780070460300
- Lacher-Feldman, Jessica (March 27, 2023) "Lionel Richie". Encyclopedia of Alabama
- "Lionel Richie" (May 8, 2023) Wikipedia - accessed May 8, 2023